Everyone loves Bollywood stars. Indian tourists? Not so much!



Imagine walking into your room in a posh hotel at a top tourist destination and coming face to face with a notice addressed to you.

Well, not you, but you as in a “guest from India”.

A notice that lists the rules to be followed which include not walking away with anything from the breakfast buffet.

“Please do not take anything with you, the food is for breakfast only. If you would like a lunch bag, you can order it from the service stall and pay for it.”

Indian tourists were also asked to use the cutlery provided at the table and not speak loudly in their balcony and corridors. 

According to an article in India Today, this is what Indian industrialist Harsh Goenka saw in his room at the Hotel Arc-en-ciel in Gstaad, Switzerland.

This incident followed another in which a hotel in Bali publicly shamed an Indian family that was checking out with  several items including electronics from their hotel room.

That hotel also specifically mentioned Indian guests.

Now many of us have a stash of mini shampoo and conditioner bottles, of tiny soaps, collected from our stays in various hotel rooms. But those are meant for our use, we claim, and if a few remain at the end of our stay, it’s okay to take them. “Come in handy the next time we travel,” we say.

However, as we either stay in hotel rooms where we collect yet more bottles or with relatives or friends who are kind enough to provide us with a well-stocked bathroom, this stash remains a guilty secret.

There are exceptions, of course. I’ve seen the bottles displayed in a beautiful cane basket in the powder room as proof of the premium destinations the person has been to – and removed toiletries from!

But I digress. Soaps and shampoo bottles are one thing. But electronics? From a hotel room? The mind boggles.

I have seen signs in hotel rooms that inform guests that their luxury towels and bath robes are available in the lobby and list the prices. But those are for anyone who might be tempted to tuck one of the items in their suitcase, not specifically Indians.

In the movie If It Is Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, a bunch of American tourists are on a bus tour of Europe. Among them is a man who starts the tour with an empty suitcase. It is bursting at the seams with “souvenirs” from hotel rooms by the end of the movie.

So, again, not an issue with Indian guests alone. 

Closer home, according to an article by Colette Derworiz in The Canadian Press and as reported by CTV Calgary, Parks Canada put up toilet etiquette signs to help international tourists use outhouses.

The signs ask users to sit rather than stand on toilet seats in bathroom facilities. 

Jed Cochrane, an acting visitor experience manager in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, was quoted in the article as saying, “We’ve noticed that some visitors who aren’t used to Western-style toilets – they may attempt to stand up on the seats when using the toilet. Because the toilet is not designed for that, it ultimately creates problems with cleanliness.”

Standing on a toilet can also lead to a broken seat and there’s the risk of falling, he said.

Some public toilets in Asian countries and the Middle East are pit latrines, which require users to squat over an open hole.

Signs that show people how to use seat toilets can also be found in other tourist locations, including the Swiss Alps and parts of the United Kingdom.

Seat covers for those who don’t find sitting on a public toilet seat hygienic might be a solution, but that’s a whole other discussion.

Notices targeting guests from India alone like the one in the Swiss hotel are terrible. But ask yourself, why would hotels that survive on tourist dollars risk offending a large number of people? Wouldn’t it be easier to look the other way and continue to welcome more guests?

It would, unless the problem had gotten out of hand.

In a message posted on Twitter that has since gone viral, Goenka wrote that he felt angry, humiliated and wanted to protest. But then a realisation dawned that “we as tourists are loud, rude, not culturally sensitive. With India becoming an international power, our tourists are our best global ambassadors. Let’s work on changing our image.”

Hear! Hear!  

A planet in peril



Canadians care about the environment. We recycle, compost, take pride in our spectacular natural areas and understand the threat of climate disruption. But we also use more energy and water and produce more garbage per capita than any nation.

In 2017, Canadians produced 1.33 billion tonnes of waste – 36.1 tonnes per person – with only 20.6 per cent treated or recycled, according to a study by 24/7 Tempo based on World Bank data. Much of that is industrial waste, especially from the oil industry, but household waste is also a problem.

Despite municipal recycling programs, we ship boatloads overseas. Now, some is coming back. The Philippines recently returned 69 shipping containers of what was supposed to be plastic for recycling but was mostly household garbage. Cambodia wants to send back 11 containers, also mislabelled as plastic for recycling, and Malaysia has returned a container. Countries including India, China, Vietnam and Taiwan have banned or restricted waste imports.

Much exported material isn’t even recycled. It gets burned or dumped into rivers. Most countries, including Canada, ratified the 1989 Basel Convention, aimed at reducing waste, disposing of it in the country where it was generated and exporting it only if the receiving country gives “prior informed consent”. In May 2019, countries voted to amend the convention to ban exporting hazardous and household wastes to developing countries; Canada opposed the amendment.

At the same time, our government announced it will ban nonessential, single-use plastic items starting in 2021, although it hasn’t released details. EU nations have already agreed to ban plastics including “cutlery, plates, straws, ear swabs, plastic balloon sticks and drink stirrers” by 2021. Other countries and jurisdictions have either banned or agreed to ban a range of items, including plastic bags. Some are facing challenges. Victoria, B.C.’s plastic bag ban was overturned after a court challenge from the Canadian Plastic Bag Association.

The real problem is that we produce too much. Remember, the first of the Rs is reduce. Plastic products are a ubiquitous, profitable offshoot of the fossil fuel industry. Because societies are driven by consumerism, profit and constant growth, the impetus is to make more rather than less, for everything from packaging to straws.

The massive volumes of plastic we throw away – much of it unnecessary – end up in landfills, waterways and oceans, devastating wildlife and marine health. It doesn’t biodegrade but breaks down into smaller particles that end up in the food web – including in us.

A huge problem is discarded fishing gear, which entangles more than 100,000 seabirds and marine animals such as whales, dolphins, sea turtles and seals yearly, often killing them. Researchers estimate that 600,000 to 800,000 tonnes of “ghost” gear ends up in the oceans every year, by accident or deliberately. According to the UN, “Some of the abandoned nets can be as big as football pitches,” and “can take up to 600 years to break down, shedding microplastics as it degrades” trapping marine life all the while.

To support the federal ban on single-use plastics, the Green Budget Coalition, representing 22 environmental organizations including the David Suzuki Foundation, is recommending the government invest in public education and compliance initiatives, support for zero-waste business investments, mapping pathways to a “circular” economy, and implementing a program to prevent and recover ghost fishing gear. A circular economy is regenerative by design; products are built to last, to be reused, repaired or remanufactured, or to have materials recovered.

The phenomenal boom in fossil fuel-derived plastics coincided with the rise of oil and gas and auto industries, where the one goal is to burn and use as much fossil fuels as possible, keeping profits and economies humming. We’re now seeing the consequences of this rapid, relatively recent juggernaut: climate chaos, dying oceans and pollution everywhere – even where humans aren’t.

Bans on single-use plastic items won’t solve everything, but they’re a good step and help raise awareness about our wasteful ways. We have numerous ways to drastically reduce plastic use, and to make better, longer-lasting products, even creating plastics with biodegradable materials such as plant cellulose.

Let’s not take our abundant resources and territory for granted. “Disposable” should be unacceptable. In a finite world, everything has to go somewhere.

• With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor/writer Ian Hanington. More at


 Countless unsung heroes in our midst




Desi News does a stellar job with Grant’s in honouring desi achievers in Canada. Not only do these high achievers attain the pinnacle of professional success, many of them are improving lives of communities through research, innovation, altruism and commitment.

Most of them have achieved high academic and professional credentials through hard work. 

There are desis in Canada who do not have multi-levels of formal education but have achieved incredible results for their families and their communities.

We often read about these quiet stewards doing community work in such places as soup kitchens, boys and girls clubs, inner city breakfast clubs, churches, gurdwaras, mosques, temples, synagogues and after-school teams.

And then there are those who toil to support families whom we do not read about.

In this column, I would like to profile a desi who did not have the opportunity to complete high school in her Caribbean country of birth but achieved success by enabling her family to reach goals that were beyond her reach.

She is my friend Savi.

Savi was the third of five children born to a modest couple who worked on a sugarcane field in the Caribbean.

The work was back-breaking from dawn to dusk, so Savi and her elder sister took care of cooking and household chores while her elder brother and parents worked the fields and the younger sisters went to school.

Tragedy struck when Savi was ten years old. In a freak accident, her mother burned to death deep inside the plantation.

Her father plunged into grief, depression and alcoholism and never recovered. Her brother, too, was deeply affected and couldn’t help his siblings.

Savi’s older sister was soon married and left home so it was up to Savi to take care of her older brother, her younger sisters and her father.

She left school at the age of 16 before graduating high school.

She not only cooked and cleaned, she also guided her two younger sisters to stay in school, study hard and be good human beings. She became mother, father and backbone of her family. Her uncle who also worked the cane fields helped by buying them groceries when he could, but life was a struggle. 

A few years later her two younger sisters qualified as teachers and stood on their own feet. Savi married at the age of 20 and gave birth to her son soon after. She and her husband continued to help her family together with her sisters.

But tragedy struck again when her brother died suddenly at age 27. Savi still has not overcome that grief. Her father remained depressed and addicted until his death several years later.

When her son was 10 years old Savi and her husband, like many immigrants, left him with Savi’s sister and came to Canada to start a better life with the intention of sending for him. But life here was hard, very hard especially for immigrants who did not have coveted credentials. 

However, Savi may not have had school credentials, but she had bountiful life credentials. She advertised herself as a house cleaner and started cleaning three to four houses a week bringing in much needed cash.

Her husband found work as an auto body mechanic.

Soon, because of her impeccable work, her clientele increased rapidly by word of mouth and she was cleaning three houses a day five days a week.

This was bone-tiring work but Savi was not phased. She kept going like the proverbial energizer.

She sent money home for her son’s education and he was an outstanding student. He was the only student in his elementary school to gain entry to a prestigious high school.

Her sister who was caring for her son advised against pulling him out of school since he was doing so well. 

Fast forward a decade and her professional sisters were all set, married and successful. Her son attended business college and met and married a medical student while still in college. Savi continued sending money home for his tuition fees and even helped with her daughter-in-law’s medical fees.

Her son graduated business school and gained employment in a large multinational oil company in the Caribbean, working his way up to manager. He and his wife were now set and independent.

When her daughter-in-law qualified and started her practice they had a baby girl, the light of Savi’s eye.

Her son’s best friend from high school immigrated to Canada after college and Savi helps him in his restaurant here on her days off and regards him as her son too.

She continues to clean houses which she has been doing now for twenty years.

There are thousands of desis like Savi. Parents, grandparents, volunteers, friends, who though not highly educated make sacrifices and work hard so their children, friends’ children or community children grow up to achieve success.

These achievers are ordinary people doing extraordinary work. And there are millions of workers like Savi – factory workers, construction workers, office workers, septic workers and others whom we do not readily see but whose work makes our lives function better – who quietly run the engine that drives our country.

Behind every CEO, company president, vice-president, manager, supervisor, administrator, etc., are teams of women and men doing the legwork, the physical labour, the accounting, the spreadsheets, technology service and so much more.

Many of these people are part-time, minimum wage earners with no benefits or perks like their bosses. They do the work and the boss takes the credit.

Let us remember to acknowledge this silent workforce not only on Labour Day but every day of the year. 

Dr Vicki Bismilla is a retired Superintendent of Schools and retired college Vice-President, Academic, and Chief Learning Officer. She has authored two books. This column marks a special milestone this month – the 100th. Over the years, Dr Bismilla has shared her experience as a senior academic and executive, guiding readers with wisdom and her keen insight of workplace issues.


DEAR DIDI, is it wrong to want a private celebration?




Dear Didi,

All our family celebrations are held at my in-laws’ place. When I  married into this family, I knew that’s how it was and embraced the warmth they extended to me. However, now that I am a new mom, I would like to celebrate our own special days in our home but that is causing a lot of tension. I am being accused of “breaking up the family”. I suggested doing both, joining the family celebration and then having our own little private one but even my husband thinks I am being selfish. DEAL BREAKER

When they say everything changes and your life will be completely different when you have kids, they’re right!

You and your husband now have your own little family and the two of you make the decisions for what’s best for the three of you. Stay strong and firm in laying down the ground rules because this is what will be followed once and forever more.

Family celebrations aren’t just about traditions and customs your in-laws want observed, but it’s also about filling your home with what you want to teach your child about the festivities.

When it comes to your husband it’s different, this is all he has ever known since it’s his family and the home where he grew up.

And as a male child, he doesn’t have to do any organizing or hosting, all he needs to do is show up – which completely lets him off the hook and he is encouraging you to do the same.

Why not just step back and let others host in their home and be responsible for all the celebrations?

However, you don’t have to go along with it and you are not “breaking up the family”.

Talk with your in-laws to break the tension and explain where you are coming from. You aren’t saying that you don’t want to go to your in-laws’ home at all, but you want to also create a space in your home.

This allows your child and their grandchild to be able to see all of the family take the time and make the effort to observe the celebrations together as one unit and separate with just your private one on your own terms.

You obviously enjoyed being embraced by your husband’s family and you know your child will be engulfed by the same warmth and love.

Remind them that you were honoured and touched being welcomed into their beautiful family.

That spending time with them and making sure their grandchild also feels that bond is important to you, too.

However, it is time for you to have some pockets of time to celebrate the joys of building a family tradition.

After all, you both want the same thing – continue the gathering of family,  be there for one another, bond and create the tight familial relationships that will provide comfort and happiness during celebrations for many years to come.

I may be able to help! Is there something that you wish you could talk to someone about? Email me at or follow me on Twitter and Facebook at @Dear Didi_KSC. Want more Dear Didi? Listen to my pod-cast – Generation Immigrant – on all major platforms. Listen, rate, review, repeat. Hope to hear from you soon!

Why is marriage dying?



 According to statistics, more than fifty per cent of marriages end in separation or divorce.

From time to time, I hear older children from these broken marriages say, “I never want to get married”. They see the brokenness, the fighting and the pain. They are often the real victims. Others never commit to marriage but simply live with whomever until they no longer deem it convenient.

Marriage is dying. The institution of marriage is being challenged and undermined on many fronts. I don’t think many of us will dispute this fact – whether it’s ‘love marriages’ or ‘arranged marriages’. But why is marriage dying? As I was reflecting on the question, I came across a chapter in a book which addressed this question. The author says that marriage is dying because we have forgotten that marriage is always about dying. Marriage is about dying to self; it’s about sacrificing self and giving self to the other. We might say that this is how true love expresses itself in a marriage.

We noted in last month’s article that marriage is not something that man made up, thinking it was a good idea. God made marriage. We considered His three purposes of marriage: companionship, having children, and for the well-being of society.

There is a lot to think about here. Who can restore marriage and make it good again?  

My son is getting married the end of this month and the vow he is making, in part, says this, “I take you, –––, to be my wife. I promise before God and all who are present here, to be your loving and faithful husband. I will love you and give myself for you, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her... and never forsake you, as long as we both shall live.”

Likewise, his wife will say, in part, “I take you, –––, to be my husband. I promise before God, and all who are present here, to be your loving and faithful wife. I will love you and submit to you, as the church loves and submits to Christ... and never forsake you as long as we both shall live.”

The pattern and the power for a strong marriage is Christ. By trusting in Christ, we receive the strength to love the other, to forgive the offenses of the other and give self to the other.

 • Reverend Tony Zekveld can be reached at 416-740-0543 and

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